In the Numbers

Dad’s breath grew erratic and ragged. He drew one last, long burst of air and pushed it out, exhausted and spent. That was it.
Dad was gone.
This gentle, wry man—the one who showed me the numbers running throughout our entire lives—was gone.
From him, I learned that numbers are everywhere, pulling order out of chaos. Say, for example, the geospatial trajectory of a BB shot through the air by a malicious brother.
Numbers were in the kitchen when I asked Dad a cooking question, like how many cups were in a gallon. “Pint’s a pound, world around,” he’d respond, matter-of-factly. Beneath those words, layers of equations and calculations would produce the answer I needed (16).
Numbers were with me even when Dad wasn’t. In gym class, I mentally graphed my deceleration as that Presidential Fitness mile wore on—an exponential curve with speed along the y-axis and time over the x-axis.
In second grade, I caught hell for using the top of my desk to track the ratio of times the teacher called on girls versus boys. Sitting at that desk over recess, scrubbing away the carefully penciled charts and graphs, remains a vivid childhood memory.
The moment after Dad took his last breath, his empty shell lying on the bed, the numbers were silent. No equation could graph our pain.
I grappled behind me for something, anything solid, and found Charles. I turned into him, buried my face on his shoulder and sobbed as he held me tightly.
My Charles. He was there with my family that whole horrible week. He took shifts like the rest of us, staying up with Dad, plying him with morphine. He ran errands, made phone calls, smoothed ruffled feathers. He stroked my back and held my hand.
In the days following Dad’s death, Charles was there. He pooled music for my dad’s wake and funeral. He brokered peace between brothers at the funeral home. He made sure my mother ate, helped hustle her out of the house when she would have lingered indeterminately, and corralled all the paperwork needed for the business of death.
On the day of the funeral, we sat in a straight line in the front pew of the church—all fixed points in a cruel equation of life balanced with loss.
Charles pulled the eulogy he wrote from the pocket of his suit jacket and walked up to the stage. Numbly, I sat, holding my mother’s hand. Charles began talking about the strong and quiet man my father was. Suddenly, we heard a catch in his voice.
Then, a sob.
Two weeks of attending to our grief, and my husband had forgotten about his own. All that time, he was anything and everything my family needed. He did it all without fanfare, blending into the background of grief. But his pent-up emotion would no longer be set aside.
Suddenly, the numbers snapped into focus. I could see a graph for how I’d loved my husband (y-axis) over time (x-axis). Far from a straight line, the points on this graph jumped around, snuck up on me, surprised me. This moment in time soared above the rest, as Charles grieved for my father and I saw my husband for the man he was—for me, for all of us.
Charles was still crying. Everyone sat, silent and waiting.
I jumped out of my seat and onto the stage. I hugged my husband, took his hand, and looked down at his notes. I began to read, “For Dad, God was in the numbers.”


               

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Lost and Found

I walk through the park in the center of town as a fine rain begins to fall. There’s no umbrella in my hand, but I don’t mind getting wet. As the drops grow in size, I turn my face upwards to greet them. Lamp posts throw light behind the rain, illuminating it in turns and degrees.
Out of sheer contentment with the rain and this beautiful night, I open the door to that otherinside me and push it out to my surroundings. It expands around me in a sphere that grows out, out, out. Gradually, like coming out of a satisfying nap, I gather awareness to me. I am the blades of grass experiencing the percussive landing of a million drops; I am the parched soil greedily soaking water into myself. I am the rain drops, tracing the path I traveled from the heavens.
I rotate in a circle on my patch of land, basking in a rare moment of peace. Suddenly, I sense a presence. I drop my eyes to the horizon and scan. There, on the opposite edge of the park. I feel her. I see her, silhouetted in shadow. I can’t see the face, but I know who she is.
Is it possible?
Anything’s possible. I long since learned that lesson.
But what does it mean?
She turns and starts to walk away from me. I can’t let her leave me again. I’m still opened up to the air, the water, the earth. I close my eyes and reach into myself to that space within, resonating with the frequency and beauty that I can and cannot see. My power whispers to it, shapes it, molds it.
I open my eyes. The rain in the air has slowed almost to a stop. The drops are falling so slowly now that only I can perceive their movement. I peer past the rain; a couple hurrying through the park to find shelter are seemingly frozen in place; a dog running past is suspended, mid-leap, above the ground. I focus on my target; she’s frozen in her retreat.
My heart races, pushing blood through every cell of my body. I forge a slow and steady path through the suspended rain. Gingerly, I run my fingers down the frozen prisms, parting them in front of me like a beaded curtain. They crowd together, pear-shaped diamonds shimmering against the night sky.
Four. Four years since my sister died. She was only fifteen, overwhelmed by her own power. I watched as it consumed her, forever taking her from us.
Or did it? Though we held a funeral for her, there she is. I keep walking.
My sister. The light of living and loving in stark contrast to my own brooding presence in our family. With her, only ever with her, did I fit.
Now I can see hair falling over her shoulders, divided into a series of canyons and ridges by tiny rivers of water. Any doubts immediately disappear. I walk around to face her.
Where have you been? Are you really here now? 
What happened to you?
Finally, I see her face—at peace, a small, knowing smile cocked at the side of her lips. I reach up and brush lethargic, plump drops of water off her cheek. Like a flipped switch, the features of her face catch up with me suddenly; I see recognition dawn in her eyes.
The water begins to fall again.

Ghosts in the Bathroom

I was five years old when my mom sat my two older brothers and I down on my childhood bed. She fumbled with the words, not knowing how to begin. The telling was hard for her. Her father had died.
Died? What did that even mean? I looked to the other people on the bed for how I should react.
My mother was crying. My oldest brother looked unsurprised at the news, but terribly sad. My other brother was shocked and crying.
I felt like I should ask some questions, because I sure didn’t understand what was happening. Yet, this didn’t seem like the right time to raise my hand.
After a pause for the information to sink in, my mother continued. “You know, while this means you can’t see Granddaddy in person, he’ll always be there, watching over you.”
Always?
Puzzled, and still working out what had just happened, I walked out of the room with my brothers. I tried to feel sad like them, but I was too young to understand what it all meant.
I mulled over the words my mother said, but the more I thought about it, the less it made sense. If Granddaddy was watching over me, that meant that somehow, he was here with me. What about my brothers? My mom? My Grand Mother? He couldn’t be with all of us all the time, could he? Did this mean we all had to stay in the same place now?
What about the times when I didn’t want anyone watching? Would Granddaddy see everythingI did now? I would think about this when I lit my doll on fire playing with a lighter, when I snuck out of the house after being grounded, when I got caught hiding others’ belongings in my play kitchen. Was Granddaddy watching? I cringed to think he had seen me at my worst.
I thought about it most when we were at Grand Mother’s house.
After walking into the bathroom, as I closed the door, I would plead quietly, “Granddaddy, if you’re here, please don’t watch.”
Just in case.

Pink Heels


I was seven or eight when they came in the mail: those pale pink, five-sizes-too-big, high-heeled sandals. My father’s sister in Texas found them at a garage sale for fifty cents and guessed her niece would love them.

Love them I did. My mom would tie the long pink straps around my ankles, criss-crossing them up and down my leg. Then I clomped around the basement in them, strutting up and down imaginary aisles of desks, playing Mrs. Marciolonus—my teacher with the amazing shoes and impeccably manicured toenails.

One afternoon, as a thunderstorm threatened, I wore them and played Rock Star in the garage and on the driveway. I waved to throngs of screaming fans, singing songs of my own creation. The rain began to tease the ground with big intermittent plops. I kicked off the shoes and ran inside before disaster could strike.

After the rain subsided, my father backed his 1971 Ford Bronco out of the garage. As he did, there was a sickening crunch. He trudged back into the house carrying the terrible carnage of my beautiful pink shoes. They were broken beyond all repair.

My father was a quiet and shy man with two older sons. A crying daughter rendered him helpless. His only recourse? Offer to replace her shoes, of course. As though shoes that gorgeous come around more than once in a lifetime.

That weekend, my father drove me to a discount women’s shoe store. They were having a dot sale; everything with a green dot was $5, yellow meant $10, and red meant $15. I found a pair of black peep-toe pumps imprinted with a faux reptilian pattern. They fit me perfectly. And there, on the bottom of the sole, was a green sticker.

We returned home, triumphant. The shoes added an edge to my basement adventures. As a teacher, I was a little stricter. As a singing sensation, I was a little more rock and roll.

Like most things from childhood, I outgrew the heels my dad bought me. I imagine they’re still in that basement, rambling around with long-lost BBs and Barbie’s old Jeep. Perhaps they’re sitting patiently next to the school desk, waiting for class to be back in session.

Decades later, in the clearance section of DSW, I found a pair of pink strappy sandals. Of course they weren’t the same; how could they be? But the shade of pink, the way they circled my ankle and buckled on the side, the dainty heel–all evoked the shoes my dad destroyed. They made me feel like a lady and that girl playing Rock Star, all at once. I turned over the shoe to find the clearance sticker on the sole; it was green.

A year later, I unpacked the shoes from my suitcase, along with a black dress and a string of pearls. I hung the dress in the bathroom of my parents’ house while I took a shower. I got dressed. Carefully, reverentially, I put on my pink strappy heels. I walked down the hall to my parents’ bedroom and knocked softly. “Mom, you ready?”

Later that night, we stood awkwardly in a room of the funeral home, as friends and family came to pay their respects to my dad. I had cried more than I thought possible in the last two weeks. You know how your body is made of 75% water? I was down to 20%, easy. For these people, it felt like there were no tears left.

There was only me and a pair of pink strappy shoes.

        

Five Star